The city of Montesano has decided to get out of the sign business before it ever made a sale.
While city administrators had brainstormed the creation of an ordinance that would have split advertising revenue from the signs on the outfield fences of Crait, Nelson and Vessey fields among the city and the user groups, the city eventually abandoned the idea and, on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance that will put all of the money in the user groups hands for the foreseeable future.
In April, Montesano Summer Baseball Program Director Paul Bialkowsky approached the City Council for the right for his user group to sell and collect all of the funds from the sale of advertising signs on the outfield fence. In 2009, a resolution had been passed to allow for the sale of signs at Vessey Field, but the revenue was to be put in a fund to be used for capital improvements on the facility and to date no signs have ever been sold.
User groups at Crait and Nelson fields have sold advertising signs to line the outfield fence for several years and collected and used the funds to help offset maintenance costs for the facilities. The user agreement signed by the Montesano Little League and the Montesano Girls Softball Association, the primary users of Crait and Nelson fields, did not specifically state that signs could not be sold and also did not specifically allow for the sale of the signs. Without a uniform agreement between all of the user groups that use the city facilities, city administration looked for a way to have one policy, and in April it came up with the idea to share the funds between the city and the user groups. The idea of sharing the advertising funds was met with a backlash by parents and community members.
A committee was formed to create a future resolution to be a uniform policy for all three fields and all user groups and on Tuesday the committee brought a resolution before the city council that would allow all of the funds from the sale of advertising signs to be kept by the user groups.
“All monies collected from the sale of sign rentals by the organizations selling the sign rentals will be available and utilized by the organizations selling the sign rentals, at the sole discretion of each organization,” the resolution states. It continues, “In lieu of monies received from the sale of rental space, the city will receive the agreed upon amounts as identified in the signed user agreements between the city and user groups.”
Councilman Chris Hutchings said that the old law noted that the city would get half of the proceeds from the signs sales, “Here, the user groups get the money and they are responsible for the financial arrangements.”
Councilwoman Marisa Salzer asked City Attorney Dan Glenn if there was still a concern over if the city was providing a gift of public funds to the user groups. Glenn said he still had that concern, and it would be up to the state Auditor’s Office to address.
The committee left intact much of the same language from the previous resolution, such as the content of the signs, which does not allow advertisements of a sexually inappropriate nature, those promoting alcoholic beverages or tobacco products, signs of a politically insensitive nature and other standards.
On a 4-1 vote, the council stripped out a requirement that would prohibit signs that violate the general moral standards of the community. Councilman Pat Herrington pointed out that the “moral standards” was too ambiguous.
“What is the moral standard of this community?” Herring mused. “We’re putting on something that is subjective.”
“It’s very subjective,” agreed Hutchings.
Councilman Ken Walkington was the only one to vote against the amendment.
Organizations choosing to sell signs would be entirely responsible for the installation and upkeep of the advertisements. The resolution would simply require the signs to be of an all-weather material and gave specific dimensions.
“It would allow any user group that has an agreement with the city to sell signs,” Hutchings said in an interview, noting the old regulations would be abandoned. “It works for their best interest, because they get to keep the money.”
“We needed to move forward and this moves us forward,” Councilman Tyler Trimble said, adding he was tired that this issue had lasted as long as it has. While the new resolution will take care of the issue that arose with advertising signs at the field, other issues that have come up over the past year have caused the city and the user groups to look to change from the one-year user agreements that are currently used to a five-year lease. A counter offer from the Montesano Little League and the Montesano Girls Softball Association to an earlier proposal from the city was presented.
Montesano Little League President Steve Bove, who was one of the individuals who put the offer together, said the document was just a proposal of what the two user groups felt they would be able to do in the upcoming seasons. The offer states that the user groups would pay the city between $200 and $400 each year and have the rights to the fields from Feb. 1 until Oct. 31. Also in the proposal is an outline of maintenance, which gives all responsibility for the fields, other than mowing and watering, to the user groups. Bove said he felt the offer was more than fair considering the user groups would be charged with all of the field preparation.
“I don’t have a problem paying some money,” Bove said. “The problem we have had is that 1985 is the last signed lease agreement and at that time it was $5 a year. We are really reaching up the olive branch.”
As an example of how much cost the user groups would be taking on in the maintenance of the fields, Bove said the Montesano Little League needed between $500 and $700 of quick dry and field conditioner just to prepare the field for the first game of the district tournament last month.
Community Development Director Mike Wincewicz said it is too early in the process to be able to agree on a lease yet, but he said he hopes to be able to have a discussion with all of the user groups to come up with a uniform agreement.
“We need to get somewhere, but I’m not sure where,” Wincewicz said. “At some point, we are going to have to have everybody set down and iron something out that is good for all of the user groups and the city. We are having conversations and want to get this ironed out before the first of the year so everybody is on the same page.”
Wincewicz set a parks committee meeting for council members to go over the proposal.